Fear controls and has been the great controller of humankind through-out the ages, as religious leaders and politicians well can attest – and maybe no more so than now.
Fear, of course, is a very normal human emotion that we all share and will all experience to some degree, especially during unprecedented global crises as we are experiencing now. It is a primal energy to help ensure our immediate physical survival. Fight, flight or freeze are our inbuilt, automatic responses to immediate threat. Fine, necessary and even life-saving in the short term but very detrimental if maintained long term.
We humans are innocently gullible and impressionable; and thus, programmable and controllable; and no more than when we are gripped by our survival fears. We have seen that collective fear travels like wildfire and when we are in a state of abject fear, we are more easily taken over, and coerced, by group think and other influences. When in that state we default to unconscious, rather than well considered, individual conscious choices.
When an atmosphere of emergency and potential doom (completely disproportionate to the actual threat of the situation) is being continually whipped up, the masses will be caught up in the frenzy and bypass any rational thought. The heightened alarm will trigger the limbic brain (the ‘emotional brain’), bypassing the pre-frontal cortex (the ‘executive’, thinking brain) – by design.
Many people lose all perspective when their rational thinking is overtaken by the hype drip-fed to them by mainstream media outlets. Unfortunately, universal ‘germ phobia’, to the extent that many are even scared of the air, has been promulgated. When subject to these influences, clear data to assuage one’s fear often cannot not be taken in and common sense is all but forgotten.
The territory of our basic survival fears is where people will very quickly hand over the authority of their own lives and their freedoms to external authorities, who they believe will save them. Many people regress to being like obedient children when in that state, will easily comply to those who are lauded as protective, parent-like authorities and will trade much for the promise of security and safety, illusion though it is.
The 4 survival fears that can be potentially manipulated are:
Fear of getting a disease or dying
Fear of not having our basic survival needs met; food and shelter
Fear of being trapped, immobilised and not able to move freely
Fear of being rejected by the ‘tribe’, our community
At this very juncture, we are collectively confronting our main primal fears – fear of change, the unknown, loss of control and chaos. These all roll into our fear of annihilation, of our psyche, if not our body. We all have our individual predilections to these fears, which are often related to our early life, family and ancestral experiences and traumas.
Pandemic or not, these fears have always been part of our human experience but we have just been very good at distracting ourselves from acknowledging them. It is just that now they are very potent and, thus, unavoidable.
Physiology of fear:
We know that, physiologically, prolonged marked fear will actually bring about the opposite of what the fear is trying to avoid. Fear is about defence and protection but, paradoxically, will diminish our immune capacities if it continues unabated. It is very well established that prolonged stress and fear have adverse effects on our immune and other physiological systems.
Short-term survival responses activate the sympathetic arm (the sympathetic nervous system -SNS) of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis. This propels us into ‘fight or flight’, which is a very energy demanding, catabolic process. Fine in the short term but devastating to the mind and body if maintained in the long term.
When the body is controlled by these reactions, our immune response is put on the back-burner because fighting pathogens can wait when we need our energy reserves directed towards running away from the proverbial tiger.
The other branch of the ANS is the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). We need good functioning of the PNS for rest, repair, recovery, reproduction and balanced functioning of our organs and physiological processes (homeostasis). When the SNS is overworking and dominant during acute stress responses, the PNS is under-functioning. The SNS and the PNS need to be in overall balance for health, as we do not heal when in a SNS dominant state.
We know that tools and techniques used to enhance functioning of the myelinated vagus nerve (one of the main branches of the PNS) help to calm and bring equilibrium to our frazzled nervous systems. Of course, this whole system is much more complex than I can detail here, but you get the idea.
Another even more concerning fear response, other than the ‘fight or flight’ response, is the ‘freeze’ response. This response is phylogenetically a more primitive survival mechanism and is related to dominance of the unmyelinated branch of the vagus nerve. The ‘freeze’ response is associated with a state of disempowerment, apathy and hopelessness. It is a very energy-depleted state and when people are in this state, they are much more prone to physical illnesses, depression and even suicide.
One of the biggest stresses in the animal world is being trapped and immobilised. This is why prolonged severe lockdowns, especially when people are isolated from other people and their normal social outlets, are so brutal to the human condition. Unless they have very good coping tools, people easily lapse into apathy and hopelessness, with all the accordant physiological changes, when subject to these restrictions. This is hardly health promoting!
Ongoing fear and stress can also cause continual stimulation of the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, bringing about a prolonged elevation of cortisol (secreted by the adrenal glands), beyond what the body would normally experience. The effects of a prolonged elevation of cortisol levels (similar to the effects of extended treatment with corticosteroid medications) include: blood sugar imbalances; increased visceral fat storage; gastrointestinal dysfunction; cardiovascular disease; loss of bone density; thinning of connective tissue and skin; impaired wound healing; hormone/reproductive dysfunction and immune system dysfunction – to name a few.
Eventually, if HPA over-activation persist for long enough, the cortisol levels eventually diminish and then chronic inflammation ensues. Chronic inflammation is associated with just about every chronic disease known to humankind. Prolonged fear is markedly inflammatory to the body. From a mind-body perspective, being in a defensive mode mentally correlates with a defensive, inflammatory physiological state.
We want our immune systems, and their broader projections, to be in a happy balance to appropriately protect us but without being either under-functioning or hyper-stimulated.
Left Brain approach versus a heart-aligned approach:
Extreme fear is a powerful motivator in the short-term but will never bring about health or wellbeing in the long term. It cannot, as the energies are disparate.
Health is not a product of fear – quite the opposite. For those who think they can stay ‘safe’ by utilising extreme, fear-based measures indefinitely, are doing to their bodies, and their psyches, the absolute opposite of what they believe they are. People do have the right to do what they feel they need to do to protect themselves and the vulnerable should indeed be appropriately looked after, but imposing these measures on the normal, healthy population is another matter and, many would agree, very questionable.
Extreme protective measures are our attempts to desperately control life and death and many of us believe that we can only do so by artificial/physical means such as masks, ‘social distancing’, etc. to control our external environments. This reflects our myopic, one-sided, materialistic approach to health that has been so emphasised by our fear-fuelled reaction to this pandemic.
Related to this, we have been programmed to believe that the saviour is something external to ourselves and this is why people have so much faith in leaders, politicians, the medical profession and even a medical device. When people are in such a state of fear, even though it defies the actual reality of the situation, they will line up for a perceived ‘magic bullet’ without any discernment or rational thought.
This overall experience, particularly, and regardless of the actual reality of the situation, has had many of us confront our fear of death. This pandemic has not created death; it has always been there but most of us have chosen to ignore its reality until we have been forced to face it. It is not just our mortality that we fear but death of our old ways of being, our beliefs, attitudes, certain lifestyles and the institutions that we have relied on that no longer serve us well.
When we loosen our fear of death, we more fully embrace life. That does not mean that we do not appropriately look after ourselves and others but that we do this from a pro-life, rather than avoidant attitude. We are better served if the objectives we hold are the positive qualities of what we desire, rather than just avoidance of the unwanted.
Life is risky, always has been and always will be. Resilience of mind will correlate with resilience of the body and our immune systems. It is very misguided to think that maintaining risk-avoidant, over-protected and contracted states will somehow keep us safe and healthy. The opposite is in fact true, though the populace has been encouraged, if not forced, to adopt the fear-dominated stance, which is simply not beneficial for the evolution of the human species.
Resilient, robust health is equated to fully embracing life, and its inherent risks - not in a foolhardy way - but in a flexible, realistic way and moving towards what makes us healthy (mind, body and spirit) rather than fear-fuelled avoidance. Sadly, the later has been encouraged and largely adopted by the majority and, alarmingly, people are being applauded for doing so.
I want to emphasise that health care and healing are not about severe, restrictive, often brutal and harmful, draconian ‘one size fits all’, fear-based dictates. It is about compassion, flexibility and an in depth understanding of the complexities and nuances of the human condition and the myriad factors that impinge upon health and wellbeing.
Of course, in any area of life, some reasonable and appropriate rules and regulations might be helpful guidelines, but we need a balanced, considered and proportionate response. A hard, left brain, rigid approach, not matched by a heart-based perspective, will likely result in distorted, unhealthy outcomes.
Divide and Conquer:
Life is made up of fractals within a holographic, quantum field – repeated and inter-dependent patterns on different scales. We can easily see how the fear that we hold within our own beings is extrapolated, on the larger scale, to our communities, regions and nations. Our fear-based attempts to attack, deflect and shut-out the virus from our own bodies is equated, on a larger scale, to the closing of boarders between neighbors, communities, states and countries. Concerning indeed, as isolation will never work for us in the long term. It goes against our very nature.
Sadly, many people have become deeply suspicious of their fellow citizens, viewing them as dangerous germ-spewing entities, whose questioning of unproven rules and regulations is perceived as a direct threat to their safety.
As perspectives and opinions become more and more divided, so do our communities. At many levels, fear can allow forces to come in to ‘divide and conquer’. We can see how this happens within the confines of our own brains and minds. Panic and fear will cause a dis-integration of the brain, with the more primitive, survival areas of the brain dissociating from and dominating the more rational, executive functioning areas of the brain, causing us to act in a reflex, rather than rational way.
As we are communal creatures, one of our greatest fears is being rejected by our ‘tribe’, our families and communities. Traditionally this meant humiliation, isolation and ultimately death. Though they might be dressed up differently in modern times, we are still governed by these primal fears. This fear of being rejected by our communities wants us to be included in the crowd and causes many to bypass all common sense, ethics and humanity and quietly comply so as to not stand out.
Unfortunately, when we are overcome by our survival fears, which indeed can be a self-centred, narcissistic state, we risk focussing on our immediate survival at the expense of what really is best for our communities. This is not to blame anyone; it is just how our brains work to ensure our short-term survival. Fine if we need to deal with an immediate threat in a quick reflex way, but not consistent with rational or compassionate responses if maintained beyond that. Unfortunately, the constant propagation of fear messages makes many vulnerable to maintaining what is designed to be a temporary state, as a long-term way of being.
When uncertainty and confusion are added to fear, as we see with the flip-flopping of directives and sanctions, the conscious mind goes off-line and the subconscious mind dominates. The conscious mind clearly assesses and creates; the subconscious mind defaults to habituated, learned programs that have been previously instilled (often during childhood) and, thus, reacts. When we regress to the subconscious mind, at the expense of clear, rational thinking, we are much more easily manipulated and controlled. Unscrupulous authorities know this well.
As Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda stated – “If you repeat a lie often enough it becomes the truth”, “If you make people believe in the threat of an enemy, they’ll do your bidding.”, “Divide and polarise them and destroy their solidarity and they follow your command.” It is scarily similar now. History repeats itself.
As far as I can see, there appear to be two main groups of people, with many variations in between, regarding our reaction to this global crisis: those who are focussed on their immediate physical safety and security, at any cost, and those who value freedom. These are value systems that are very ingrained into our being and very much control our reactions and behaviours from their subconscious positioning.
Many people value the illusion of safety and physical ‘survival at any cost’ over freedom and, under the influence of their survival fears, are very willing to hand over their personal liberties and sovereignty to those in positions of power - not realising that potentially the trade-off is for them to be disempowered and utterly controlled. True sovereignty will arise when people realise that no-body and no institution can promise anyone else complete security and safety.
We need to ask ourselves – ‘what am I willing to trade for my security and promises of physical safety?’ – for that is the point at which we are utterly controllable. Not an easy question, I know.
Through adverse human experiences we have the capacity to forge a better way and bring to the forefront qualities such as resilience, stamina, courage, fortitude, empathy and compassion – as our forebears have demonstrated. With this pandemic, however, we seem to have forgotten some of these qualities in favour of fear, restriction, constriction, suspicion, risk aversion, complacency and the unquestioning obedience to unproven rules and regulations. What have we become? What are we teaching our children?
I am reassured though, that our basic nature is gutsy, determined, adventurous, courageous, joyous, loving and spirited. We have just been trained away from that for a very long time. We have forgotten who we are. Time to strip away that programming and rediscover our true nature.
Some fear, of course, is expected under the circumstances and very human; and, trust me, much higher on the life energy scale than apathy and despair. Managing our fears is very different to suppressing them and covering them with a veneer of ‘all is well’. All is not well! There is a big difference between facing our fears consciously and being overcome by or suppressing them. Suppressing our fears will allow us to be subconsciously controlled by them.
Of course, these fears, particularly if triggering significant past unresolved trauma, can be very overwhelming and should be met with great compassion. It goes without saying that many people will need appropriate psychological support during this enormous crisis and its aftermath.
Our only real defence and means to true safety is our own consciousness and what we feed and do with our own minds. This is an opportunity for self-reflection and self-awareness and opportunity for positive evolution and change. What are the gifts and opportunities for growth? How can we forge a better way for humanity and ourselves through this experience?
We need the greatest understanding of, and compassion for, ourselves and others during these fraught times. Ideally, we act out of love rather than fear, recognise that there is still great beauty in the world and in our fellow human beings and acknowledge the ways in which we are bonding together and helping each other. All the while setting our sights on a positive outcome for humanity.
Never underestimate the power of positive intent, especially if it collective.
At the end of the day, it is love or fear. You choose. And whatever you do choose will filter into the collective to affect us all.
Dr Catherine Fyans is a holistic medical practitioner/conscious health facilitator and the author of The Wounding of Health Care: From Fragmentation to Integration